Seventy-two of the nation’s most successful Black businessmen and highest ranking corporate officials including—former AMEX CEO Kenneth Chenault, billionaire Robert F. Smith, Ariel Investments’ Mellody Hobson and former BET CEO Debra Lee—signed a letter calling on corporate America to publicly condemn the laws being introduced in over 40 states across the country to infringe on the voting rights of minorities.
The open letter —printed as a full page ad in the New York Times —referenced the sacrifices of those like Vernon Jordan, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and the freedom riders in its call to “stand united against those who seek to employ unjust and undemocratic laws in order to divide us and thwart the will of the people.”
“Last week, the Georgia legislature passed a sweeping set of changes to the state’s election laws that will unquestionably make it harder for Black voters, in particular, to exercise their right to vote,” the letter stated. “In the last year’s general election, a record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee, and they were disproportionately Black and Brown voters. This bill adds unwarranted restrictions on remote voting and disallows signature identification in favor of driver’s licenses in a state where over 200,000 Georgians lack a license. In addition, this law makes it illegal to use mobile voting units or to even provide food and water to voters standing in long lines. It also simultaneously expands the ability to purge large numbers of Black voters from the voter rolls for partisan political purposes.”
The letter—titled “By Erecting Barriers, Georgia is Backtracking on the Hard-Won Right to Vote— further cautioned that the disproportionate racial impact of the allegedly “neutral” laws should not be overlooked.
“This is about all Americans having the right to vote, but we need to recognize the special history of the denial of the right to vote for Black Americans, and we will not be silent,” said Chenault, who along with Merck CEO Ken Frazier are organizers of the effort.
“Georgia is the leading edge of a movement all around this country to restrict voting access,” Frazier said. “These kinds of bills have to be stopped in their tracks because you have to actually spend time reading this bill to understand what it does, and I think corporations ought to take a very strong stand in Georgia and every place else.
“What we’re saying is that state by state, in the absence of substantiated and compelling evidence of voter fraud, any actions that are taken to restrict the ability of eligible voters to vote should be opposed.”
To that end they are urging their fellow corporate leaders to join them in taking a stand noting that “the fierce urgency is now”.